Where Have All the Devices Gone?

There’s no shortage of device announcements at Mobile World Congress this year. Android in particular has dominated the show for a second year running, as I mentioned yesterday.

But what’s struck me this year is how few of the new devices are actually available to pick up and use on exhibition stands. This continued a trend we saw at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where Motorola’s Xoom, LG’s G-Slate, Samsung’s Infuse 4G and a host of other devices were announced but not on public display — or on public display but not as working samples. This was perhaps to be expected for the tablets announced at CES, which took place three weeks before the release of the SDK for Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). Barely a month later, and Honeycomb is everywhere at Mobile World Congress, on fully functioning devices from Samsung, LG, Motorola and others.

Yet this year’s event in Barcelona still has a huge number of handsets that are either mock-ups, locked under glass, or not on public display at all. Software crashes like the one pictured below seem to be a more-common occurrence. Unlike the Honeycomb tablets, many of these will be running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), suggesting that the pace of code releases is proving a challenge for many of Android’s partners.


Two or three years ago, this was rarely the case. Manufacturers would announce devices and brace themselves as hundreds of people swarmed onto their exhibition stands to try out the new phones. Today, analysts and the media are increasingly having to take manufacturers on their word, unable to experience the devices for themselves.

This is undoubtedly a reflection of the market’s competitive intensity. As we predicted at the end of 2010, shorter product life cycles and the growing importance of software will lead to some high-profile failures in 2011. The challenges are exacerbated by the growing complexity of delivering supporting content and services and the timing of shows like CES and Mobile World Congress, which allows little room for manoeuvre if development times slip.

It’s a dangerous game. If announcements consist of little more than a press release, and delivery times run late, the industry will begin to view any new device with more than a little scepticism.